Korean lunch and rustic old Beijing dinner
Yesterday was a decent day, food-wise. For lunch I met up with my friend Krista, one of my parents’ old grad students– here it seems like all my friends are adults. I’ve noticed that Chinese teenagers my age act younger– I think it’s just the culture, because high school starts at a later age.
Anyway, Krista and I met at the Starbucks at Houhai, the really gaudy one decked out to look like an imperial Chinese house. It was pretty depressing to be there, actually, since the house my dad inherited is there and it used to be totally traditional and unknown to foreigners. Now, almost everybody is a foreigner, and the streets are covered with bars and bad touristy restaurants that serve imitation club sandwiches. You can’t walk three steps without being asked if you want to take a rickshaw ride. Still, usually it’s pretty crowded, but it was an awful, yellow-gray, pus orange sun polluted day, and hardly anyone was there, even though the lotuses were looking gorgeous.
We decided there wasn’t much to do there and headed to Nanluoguxiang, a street that’s more known for nightlife, but has a lot of cool cafes and stores. It wasn’t as cool as I remembered, sadly. They weren’t selling any DVDs or CDs because of the Olympics and copyright issues, and the stores I remembered were replaced by pseudo-hippie/ Chinese fabric stores. It was fun walking around, though, and we ended up going to this Korean restauranted called Saveurs du
Koree that I’ve always wanted to go to. The floors are glass, and there’s a little pond with goldfish in it that you can see from your tables. The food is supposedly healthy, with vegetarian options. Both Krista and I ordered the set menu (the cheaper one), which included pickled vegetables, fried tofu, bibimbap, and cinnamon iced tea. They also had lots of other choices on the menu, including a variety of noodles and spicy soups.
Everything they had was good, but they were so stingy on the portions! For both of us, they brought out a tiny plate of pickles so small that I couldn’t help but wonder if only one of us had ordered the set menu, they might have given us the same amount. The fried tofu was good, since it wasn’t oily, was soft underneath, and came with delicious sauteed onions. As for the bibimbap… WHERE WERE THE VEGETABLES? It’s my understanding that the vegetables on restaurant bibimbap are supposed to be arranged by vegetable in a way that completely covers the rice! To me, this was a bowl of rice with some vegetable garnishes. It was topped with a raw egg yolk (not every restaurant does this anymore) that cooks in the iron (or whatever metal) pot as you mix it in. I have a question, though. In traditional bibimbap, do they use the egg white too, or is it always just the yolk? To
compensate for lack of vegetables, I just added a LOT of hot sauce to mine. But for some reason it didn’t fill me up! I tried to eat slowly, but that didn’t distract me from the fact that I’d already eaten all the vegetables and only rice was left. Or maybe I’m just spoiled from Chinese food, which is kind of like an all-you-can-eat buffet, only you don’t have to go to the buffet table to get seconds. I really need to eat less at a time, I think.
The most delicious thing we had was the cinnamon iced tea! Well, it isn’t really tea… I’ve been wanting to try this drink for AGES, since I’m a cinnamon fiend (my half sister is allergic, can you believe it?). We asked what was in it: apparently you boil cinnamon sticks, dried persimmon, brown sugar, and ginger, refrigerate it, then top with pine nuts. It was sweeter than what I’m used to, but the cinnamon was hot and spicy in comparison to the cool, refreshing drink. Definitely planning on making this at home!
After lunch, we continued to wander. Krista thinks I should write to City Weekend magazine (she used to work there) and see if I can write some restaurant reviews, for free or not. Sounds like a great idea to me! We stopped once more before dinner at a cafe (she ordered almond bubble tea and I just got herbal tea), and then we headed back to my apartment, where my parents had decided to invite basically everybody we know here over for cocktails.
As for the snacks, we basically copied Patrizia’s family: there was supermarket sushi, which I didn’t touch, cheese and crackers, grapes, biscotti, gingerbread which I brought from France and then froze, and a cake my friend Eleanor (also a grad student) brought from this great Korean bakery called Tous Les Jours– it was a sweet potato cake! I’m only going to post a photo of the
cake, since the rest isn’t really worth remarking on. I only had a bite of the cake, but the sweet potatoes acting more as a texture than a flavor variant– in Korea, they eat the white-fleshed sweet potatoes, which are drier and firmer. Eleanor said she bought the cake because it made her think of roasted sweet potatoes on the street in Korea during the winter. In China, we have the exact same thing! When I lived in China when I was seven, I had ice-skating lessons on the pond, and after class, my dad and I would go to the sweet potato vendor and get delicious, charcoal skinned sweet potatoes that were meltingly tender on the inside (But these are the red kind we eat in the US).
The only people that stayed for dinner were a bunch of artists. We took them to this great restaurant right around the corner from us that is a little patch of land untouched by the evolution of the Chinese economy. It’s very “laobeijing” (old Beijing), and the toilets nearby are even still holes in the ground, so go to the bathroom before you go eat here. The cooks are local people who know how to make delicious, no-frills, homestyle food, which is actually my favorite kind of Chinese food– none of that over-the-top Imperial cuisine for me. I like simple vegetables, grains, and tofu; the monastic life is for me.
Anyways, we ordered a lot of food: for appetizers, Chinese peanuts (which are salty peanuts that are stirfried, and I don’t think all the extra oil is exactly necessary), laohucai (tiger vegetables), which is cucumber, hot pepper, and a lot of garlic, liangfen (blocks of what is similar to glass noodles with shredded cucumber), tofu skin salad, and some kind of tiny little fish, briefly fried and dipped in spicy salt. The fish were great, but for some reason I didn’t feel like cucumbers
We ordered this wonderful soup that I’ve only ever had at this restaurant, called ge da tang. It’s basically a soup of tiny little lumps of dough, egg, tomatoes, and various vegetables. The dough isn’t heavy or obvious like with matzo ball soup– instead, they act as a thickening agent so that the end result is very porridgy. I had about three bowls of this… granted, the bowls were small,
Hot dishes– very simple, but still nice. We ordered the kind of dishes I always order– stirfried cabbage with vinegar and sichuan peppercorn, stirfried bokchoy with shitaake mushrooms, and stifried potato shreds. It was strange– last night’s potatoes were like french fries, but they’re
not supposed to be– usually they’re stirfired as a vegetable but not a starch– people are usually surprised that you can eat potatoes that close to raw.
We also ordered three kinds of bing, which are bread: meat, sesame, and a kind of egg and zucchini pancake. The meat bing (which I haven’t had in years, obviously), is kind of like hamburger wrapped in thin flatbread, but I’m pretty sure is pork. The egg and zucchini we had
ordered before, so I didn’t have any, but it reminds me a lot of Korean rice flour pancakes. The sesame pancakes were AMAZING!!! Surprisingly, they were sweet! Think of it as a DELICIOUS peanut butter and honey wrap. If there had been leftovers, I would have happily grilled them with some sliced bananas for breakfast!
Did I mention this food is ridiculously cheap?